Inclusion helps everyone—as Yang Le knows. He’s gone from employee with intellectual disabilities to employer, working with people with intellectual disabilities—and without!
A longtime Champion of Inclusion, Yang Le also describes himself as a “proud Special Olympics athlete leader.” He’s grown up being “labeled” with low expectations due to his diagnosis of Down Syndrome and congenital heart disease. “I did not care much,” he says, adding, “I like to be called ‘Le Le’, because it literally means ‘happy.’ I want to be happy and I want everyone around me to be happy.”
Now 21, Yang Le says his first Special Olympics event opened a door to “so many possibilities in my life. Over the past decade, Special Olympics has been a great companion to me; it inspires me to move forward and be a better person.” He says sports and exercise have become part of his regular routine during these years. “I have become more confident, outgoing and giving.”
Through the years, he has taken part in numerous competitions, such as the 5th, 6th and 7th Special Olympics China National Games—and brought back over 30 medals! He was selected as a Special Olympics East Asia Regional Messenger and attended the Special Olympics Global Athlete Congress in the Dominican Republic. In his words: “I learned how to be an outstanding Special Olympics leader!”
Yang Le says making friends has helped him to become more confident, especially at the inclusive Regional Youth Leadership Summit held in Beijing. “Being one of the Youth Leaders from the host Program, I went to the airport to pick up other participants, helped with the decoration of the event venue, moved supplies, etc., which made me feel so proud of myself and realize that I have the potential to become a leader.”
He was also one of the torch bearers for China's 11th National Paralympic Games and 8th Special Olympics China National Games!
To build on this success, Yang Le also wanted to enter the world of employment, so he began working at his mother’s bakery and helping teach others how to bake. Then he started learning how to make milk tea. In 2019, he actually opened his first milk tea shop!
However, due to COVID-19, he had to temporarily close the shop. Yang Le says the day they had to put the “closed” sign on the shop door, he and his friends all cried. Eventually, he and his mother created new and innovative ways to reach customers and sell tea. These days, with the pandemic improving and support from “a lot of people,” he’s been able to open two more stores: employing people with—and without—intellectual disabilities!
“All of this was challenging to me, but I was never afraid. I realized that making milk tea is a lot more difficult than playing table tennis! But I managed to overcome all the obstacles.”
Yang Le’s experience was broadcast by local media and he was awarded the 18th “Shaanxi Youth May 4th Medal” by the Shaanxi Provincial Committee of the Communist Youth League for being “an outstanding representative of young persons with disabilities.”
Yang Le says, “As one of millions of people with intellectual disabilities, I am no different than other youths. I pursue success with my best effort, and growing while enjoying life. I am proving with my actions that the Special Olympics movement has taught me to persist, to dream big, to keep trying, to be brave, and to realize my extraordinary value in life!”